Ten Years With Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi's Journey: The Guru Dutt-Alvi Memoirs
This is the first book in English I have been asked to review where the chapter heads are in a different language - Urdu/Hindi. And the reason is not very difficult to find. Each chapter head is an apt title of a song from Guru Dutt's films. And who could be better equipped to chronicle his ten reminiscence-filled years with the enigmatic Dutt than his screen writer and director of one of his films, the very articulate Abrar Alvi. But there is nothing enigmatic about Alvi. He goes full steam ahead with a variety of priceless anecdotes, which banish forever the picture of Guru Dutt (as seen on the book's front cover), as a somewhat dour person.
There's his name itself. It seems Guru Dutt was in love with Bengal and things Bengali. He was born Gurudutt Padekone and hailed from Karnataka. But if he was proud enough of his mother, a linguist in four languages including Bengali, he wanted passionately to show his love of Bengal. So he dropped his last name, Padukone, split Gurudutt into Guru Dutt, to look and sound more Bengali, and when a script did not have Bengal as the locale, he went out of his way to take his cast and crew to a Bengal village to use the landscape.
The other unknown side of Guru Dutt was his love of fun, sometimes leading to mischief. When he found out that comedian Mehmood was superstitious about anyone touching his nose, he made it a point to get someone to chase him with the threat of touching his nose. He also tried to embarrass Mehmood by insisting that he take a drink. He stopped short of getting the drink poured down Mehmood's throat. Later he sobered up when he was told by the comedian how drink had ruined his alcoholic father's promising career and that his descendants were likely to have alcohol on their veins for generations.
Some of the anecdotes are nothing short of shattering - such as the discovery of Waheeda Rehman, whose acting potential was known in Hyderabad when Dutt, Alvi and others watched her escaping from a buffalo that was chasing her on the street below their window. When Waheeda was eventually asked to act in a film, she stoutly refused to change her name, as did other Muslims such as Dilip Kumar.
Dutt's disturbed relationship with his wife Geeta, who unjustly suspected his relationship with Waheeda, came to a climax when Waheeda's name was attached to a love letter sent to Dutt, asking him for a 'secret' meeting on Marine Drive. Dutt stationed himself at a point where he could see Geeta and Smriti Biswas in a chauffeur-driven car slowly drive past the assigned spot. So outraged was Dutt at this silly attempt to trap him that he later admitted that it was the only time that he had lifted his hand on his wife.
In the book, however, his life takes second place to accounts of his film-making. It was already known that when it came to filming a song or using lighting with contrived effects, there was no one who could excel Dutt. So when he gave Abrar Alvi the chance to direct Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, Alvi respectfully handed over the filming of the songs to Dutt.
Among the best parts of an excellently produced book are the photographs that are relevantly chosen, beautifully reproduced and cover the wide range of his films with taste and elegance. The most poignant anecdote in the book relates to Dutt's tragic suicide in a moment of depression. It seems that Dutt and Alvi had often discussed different methods of committing suicide, even if they were in academic terms. They had once agreed that swallowing whole suicide pus sometimes did not work and it was important that the pills should be crushed and then diluted in a liquid. That moment when Alvi entered Dutt's room (everyone had thought he was sleeping late) and saw a pale pink liquid in a glass lying beside his bed, he knew that Dutt had killed himself.
Amita Malik is a Delhi-based writer on cinema